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Science Censor Appointed to Review Texas Science Standards

Casey Luskin

One of the expert reviewers of the draft Texas science standards, Southern Methodist University (SMU) professor Ronald Wetherington, has a track record of advocating censorship to restrict the free flow of information on evolution to students. So extreme is Wetherington’s intolerance that last year he attempted to ban a voluntary conference on intelligent design at SMU co-sponsored by a student group and Discovery Institute. That’s right: Not only does Wetherington want to control what goes on inside the classroom, he wants the power to censor speakers outside the classroom co-sponsored by students on their own time!

Wetherington is one of three pro-Darwin-only scientists asked to review proposed changes to the state’s science standards. Last week, we reported on the other two Darwinist reviewers and how Texas’s NCSE-clone, the “Texas Freedom Network” (TFN), tried to manufacture a controversy when it hypocritically charged that some reviewers of the Texas science standards (the “TEKS”) have a conflict of interest because they co-authored a textbook about evolution (Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism). TFN’s charge was empty because such scientists would be ideal candidates to advise a state board of education on teaching evolution and other areas of science. TFN’s charge was also highly hypocritical since two of the three Darwinists TEKS reviewers (David Hillis and Gerald Skoog) have co-authored biology textbooks, one of which might be up for adoption in Texas very soon.
But thus far we’ve said very little about the third Darwinist TEKS reviewer, Ronald K. Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at SMU, who was selected by Republican board members Geraldine Miller and Pat Hardy.

Wetherington has a history of trying to stifle free speech on evolution, and then denying his intolerant actions. This should give you a hint about what kind of evolution-education he’s going to propose for Texas students: If history is to be our guide, Wetherington is going to propose ardently dogmatic pro-Darwin-only evolution education standards, and when pressed, he’ll deny that he’s trying to censor or stifle any dissenting views.

Wetherington Stifles Darwin-Dissenters on the SMU Campus
In 2007, Discovery Institute helped sponsor a conference on the SMU campus about intelligent design and evolution. All normal campus SMU procedures were used to sponsor and plan this event, and the conference was perfectly legitimate. Yet Wetherington was part of a small cadre of vocal SMU Darwinists who, as the Dallas Morning News (DMN) reported, “demanded that the university bar the Discovery Institute from campus.” Elsewhere the DMN observed that, “Science professors upset about a presentation on ‘Intelligent Design’ fired blistering letters to the administration, asking that the event be shut down.” In particular, SMU’s anthropology department, of which Wetherington is a member, wrote a letter to the SMU administration trying to get the conference kicked off campus:

[Discovery Institute has] no place on an academic campus with their polemics hidden behind a deceptive mask. We urge the University to recognize this and to withdraw its permission to use our facilities and our name.” (emphasis added)

On the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s website Wetherington similarly wrote that the conference “has no place on a university campus — even a Christian one!”

Wetherington’s Credibility Gap
When pressed with his intolerance, Wetherington responded by denying his own actions. In a letter to SMU Daily, Wetherington tried to backpedal and downplay his attempts to censor the pro-ID viewpoint, claiming that his protests were merely “a call for disallowing the conference until its legal scheduling was confirmed.” Really? Was Wetherington’s normal practice as an anthropology professor to double-check all conferences planned at SMU to confirm whether they had undergone “legal scheduling”?

In an op-ed in the DMN that he co-authored with SMU biologist John Wise, Wetherington promoted the outlandish conspiracy theory that Discovery Institute says that evolution “should be replaced by its mystical world view” calling the conference “deliberate deception.” They also protested being called “intolerant” for trying to stop the conference, and claimed to believe in the “basic right to believe, worship and express oneself as one desires.” Except, it would seem, in academia–for his group wrote, “We urge the University to … withdraw its permission to use our facilities and our name,” and he also said the conference “has no place on a university campus.”

Does it sound like Wetherington was just checking to make sure the conference had undergone “legal scheduling”? Who is now hiding “behind a deceptive mask” or using “deliberate deception”? Wetherington’s attempt to backpedal away from his censorious demands to cancel the conference have a major credibility gap.

In one of his articles, Wetherington protests being painted as “intolerant.” Readers can decide for themselves whether he deserves that label.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.